Video Paradise

There are easier ways to rent a movie but for Jason Patrone, nothing beats the experience of visiting Video Paradise.

The mom-and-pop video shop on the northwestern corner of Alma School and Warner roads with the flamingo logo and the vintage video-arcade games has outlasted huge national movie-rental chains Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. It has so far withstood the challenge of online services Netflix or kiosks like Redbox.

For regular customers like Patrone, there are two reasons that Video Paradise remains viable: service and selection.

“I have no problem giving them my money and supporting them,” Patrone said. “They’re awesome. They’ve been here for years. This place is iconic to this area. I can’t say enough about it. I love this place.”

Patrone said he enjoys the staff, which he describes as helpful, a little quirky and cool. He also likes browsing the selection of more than 30,000 titles that includes the latest releases as well as B-movie horror classics that he watched as a kid.

“There is a genuine experience to coming here, still renting something tangible, bringing it home and popping it in,” Patrone said. “There is a ritual to it. You can’t replace that with going, ‘I want to watch that,’ and pressing a button on the computer.”

Video Paradise understands customers like Patrone because it is run by people who feel the same way.

Marshall Hawkins, who along with his wife, Gina, owns the store, is a former executive with Hollywood Video. Hawkins purchased the store eight years ago when many people were starting to think there was no future in video rentals.

He said he was familiar with Video Paradise, which has been open since 1992, before he bought it.

“I knew it, one, because I’m a huge movie buff,” Hawkins said. “And I know it sounds horrible, but also because it was one of the few independents we didn’t drive out of business. When we sold (Hollywood Video) as a company, I had heard that the owner of this store was looking to move on. I thought it would be great to be able to keep alive a passion I had (for movies).”

He said the threat from rental services with lower overhead costs like Netflix or Redbox wasn’t as much of a concern because he didn’t believe they were the reason the big rental chains faltered. He said those chains were burdened with high debt and were slow to react to changes in the business.

Hawkins said Video Paradise benefits from having an extremely loyal clientele, many of whom have been customers since the beginning. He also credits the store’s extensive catalog of titles, which has something for everyone, including documentaries, classic television shows, Hollywood classics and a large selection of foreign films.

But paying attention to the customers is what keeps the store profitable.

For example, during the recent economic downturn, the staff noticed that some people who used to rent a lot of movies and TV shows were renting fewer because money was tight.

So, the store cut the price on older titles to five movies for five days for $5.

“To be honest, that stuff was already paid for,” Hawkins said about the older movie titles. “But it ended up being a great business decision. People who used to come in and get new releases could still come in and get 10 hours of entertainment for $5. That portion of the business grew. Because we did right by our customers, our business was rewarded.”

The staff at Video Paradise does other things to try to reward loyal customers and separate itself from the competition. Customers who rent three titles can get a fourth free. Also, if the store doesn’t have a particular movie but it can be obtained for a reasonable cost, the staff will order it figuring if one person wants to rent it, others are probably looking for it, too.

Customers will sometimes even bring in discs they get from Redbox or Netflix to Video Paradise for cleaning, and the staff usually obliges.

“Because with their product, who do you call?” Hawkins said. “How do you resolve an issue? They’re almost embarrassed when they come in, but we say, ‘We get it. You live four miles away and it (Redbox) is across the street from you.’ We completely understand it.”

The store also provides free rentals of movies that can be used for educational purposes for teachers.

“I was a teacher for years,” longtime customer Doug Conway said. “So, I thought that was a good thing. And a lot of people here are long-term employees. When people work somewhere for a long time, I think it says a lot about management. I like to go to places where people are treated well.”

Hawkins’ philosophy is that if the employees are treated well, they’ll treat the customers well, which is good for business. Some employees predate the Hawkinses’ ownership and the average tenure of those working there is six to seven years, he said.

The management puts a lot of effort into finding people who are a good fit for Video Paradise. They look for not only good customer-service skills, but people who are passionate about movies.

That can sometimes make for lively interactions between staff and customers. Hawkins jokingly dropped references to two 1990s movies when describing the staff.

“I say it’s ‘Clerks’ meets ‘High Fidelity,’ ” Hawkins said. “It’s not a corporate store. You’re not going to come in here and get an artificial greeting. We sometimes cringe because if you come here and ask our employees their opinion on a movie, you’re going to get the truth.”

As for the future of Video Paradise, Hawkins said he knows there will come a time when the business is no longer viable, but he doesn’t believe that time has come yet.

“I always say it’s got two more years left,” Hawkins said. “But I’ve said that for the past nine years.”